Public Protector summons former Sars officials

Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Busisiwe Mkhwebane

Tomorrow former acting SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Ivan Pillay, his predecessor Oupa Magashula and senior Sars official Vlok Symington will present themselves before Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane after they were summoned to be questioned about Pillay’s early retirement.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan granted Pillay early retirement after requesting a legal opinion from Symington, who found it was lawful to do so.

Mkhwebane has given new life to the case, which former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams declined to prosecute when Gordhan was pursued by the Hawks on fraud charges.

Public enterprises ministry insiders believe this is part of a factional agenda executed on behalf of allies of former president Jacob Zuma.

The Pillay retirement case, as well as the battle over the former inspector-general of intelligence Faith Radebe’s report into the so-called Sars rogue unit, lends additional credence to that, they say.

“The Zuma strategy is to find something, embarrass them and sew them up,” said a senior government official. “[The Zuma faction] is trying to find anything to advance the campaign on multiple fronts. We feel it. Pravin Gordhan feels the campaign.”

The official said although the battle against Gordhan is not new, it is being ramped up.

“What makes it worse is that the taps have been turned off. Corrupt people can no longer access the trough and the troughs were at Transnet, Eskom and Denel,” he said.

“There is a lot of anger and resentment about this and it is part of the attack and fightback.”

Senior department officials believe the Zuma campaign has to be waged in this way because the former president has publicly said that no evidence has been presented against him at the state capture inquiry and he has consistently failed to apply to cross-examine witnesses who implicate him. If he did so, it would in turn expose him to cross-examination.

Another official close to Gordhan said the strategy from the minister was to “continue doing our work and doing it well”.

A former senior official close to Gordhan said that the continuation of the battle between the ANC’s Zuma camp and Gordhan “also means the new people at the helm haven’t managed to seriously destabilise Zuma’s people and there is not a serious plan to make the country functional or to deal with corruption”.

Pillay and Magashula confirmed they would be seeing Mkhwebane tomorrow.

Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said it didn’t matter that the criminal case against Gordhan was dropped, the Public Protector was looking into “maladministration or administrative lapses in the governance of organs of state, not criminal conduct”. He said Mkhwebane was pursuing the Sars “rogue” unit matter because “there have been complaints and they were found to have merit”.

“Advocate Mkhwebane does not dabble in politics. However, she does investigate the alleged conduct of politicians who are public office bearers whenever called upon to do so just like any other Public Protector before her. She is merely doing her job, which is to investigate any alleged or suspected improper conduct in state affairs. An investigation is a fact-finding mission. It can either confirm or disprove allegations or suspicions,” he said.

“It is in the interest of those who are alleged to have engaged in wrongdoing to have their names cleared. Accordingly, any person whose conduct is reported to the Public Protector should welcome the opportunity to clear their names rather than to want to tarnish the integrity of our investigation by baselessly alleging ‘factional battles’ … No one should be seen to be above scrutiny.” 

This article was updated on March 26 2019 to reflect that Vlok Symington is a senior Sars official. A previous version stated that he was a former Sars official. 

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